All you heard was a “whoosh” as they closed in. They were so stealthy that radars, infrared, nor radio locators could pick them up. Flying biplanes stripped of almost everything, the “Night Witches” were the Nazis ultimate nightmare.
In a time when women were barred from combat, even in the Soviet Union, these women stepped up to the plate. The “Night Witches” were the all female volunteer aviators, willing to do their part to bomb the Germans in World War II. These women were so feared, any German who shot them down would instantly receive an Iron Cross.
The Germans would launch Operation Barbarossa, which would be the invasion of the Soviet Union. Little did they know, the Soviets were prepared to fight at all costs. Part of that, was the deployment of the Night Witches, led by Soviet Maj. Marina Raskova.
Raskova would convince Stalin she and several other female volunteers were the perfect candidates for a deadly job. Ultimately it worked and Raskova would lead over 80 women into the fight. The planes they were given were typically used for dusting crops or training fighter pilots.
Being the first women allowed to fly combat missions across the world, these women lived up to their legacy. They would fly in the dark, learning how to carefully maneuver their aircraft as close to the German front lines as possible with only the aforementioned “whoosh” sound heard. The Germans, not being able to see them literally or through technology, would take large hits.
Over four years, these valiant women dropped over 23,000 tons of bombs during 30,000 missions. One of the women, Nadezhda Popova, would fly 852 of those missions herself. Typically, each biplane pair would fly at least eight missions in a single night. They were always met with a wall of bullets.
These women had to face more than just the conditions of war. They faced backlash from their male counterparts, they must have some sort of witchcraft among them to see so well at night. Initially, a male general tried to refer to them as “just a bunch of girlies.” So they decorated their planes with flowers and used their pencils as lipstick.
The freezing cold air would give the women frostbite or make their feet freeze, making it much harder to navigate their planes. These women also did not have parachutes for the first three years to save weight for their bombs. Not once did the women back down.
They owned the nickname “Night Witch” and continued to fight. At one point, one of the women counted over 40 bullet holes in her plane, map and helmet from a single mission. She took that as a sign of life longevity.
These days, women pilots are a lot less rare, even in combat missions. These Soviet “Night Witches” were one faction of women in a long standing history to step up to the plate.
In the heart of World War II, would you have done it? Male or female, you have to admit, it took major guts to fly any kind of mission those days. Would you have been one of the volunteers?